Queen of Hearts by Rhys Bowen

queen of hearts

This one is definitely for the Agatha Christie crowd and is firmly in the cozy crime category. This series of books follows Lady Georgianna Rannoch, thirty-fifth in line for the British throne during the 1930s, as she becomes involved in murders all over the stately homes of England and beyond.

This particular adventure brings Georgie and her disreputable mother to Hollywood just as talking pictures are becoming popular. Yet another unfortunate death takes place in Georgie’s vicinity and she and her beau Darcy must find out who done it and save the day. I really do enjoy these books. They are not demanding and are a lot of fun and just the thing to read on a dreary winter evening. Poor broke Georgie is always fun as she tries to make ends meet without having to get a real job (which would embarrass the royal family no end). Her family are suitably dreadful and her friends and enemies are very entertaining (wait until you meet the terrible Mrs.Simpson and Georgie’s sister-in-law Fig).

Give this a go and I guarantee you won’t regret it.

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You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

 

Trap Door by Dreda Say Mitchell

trap door

Rachel is in serious debt, crashing in her friends house and about to become homeless. She needs a job ASAP and as luck would have it, the ideal job lands in her lap. She’ll be working in an office under a friend of a friend. However, very quickly she is moved from her nice office to the computer section in the basement, accessed through a trap door. The same basement was once a Victorian sweatshop where 22 women perished in a fire. Rachel lost her friend to a fire tend years ago so she is very unsettled working here. But she needs the money. Rachel’s supervisor is Keats, who never speaks and whose face is permanently covered with a bandanna and sunglasses.

This book started off brilliantly, it was tense and chilling. The basement setting, the uncertainty of Keats, and the discovery of a startling file on Keats’s computer were the set-up for a great thriller. Unfortunately, I felt that it took a turn half-way through and it lost it’s hold on me. The twists were predictable and I spotted them coming. The tension was gone and parts of it were a bit unconvincing. I was quite disappointed as this started out so promisingly.

 

Your Only Friend by RJ Lindsey

your only friend

Sinéad is reeling from the death of her mother, there is friction between her and her housemates so she has decided to look for somewhere else to live. She finds a suitable room to rent in a house owned and lived in by Elliot. When she arrives Elliot has changed his mind about letting the room but Sinéad convinces him into rent it to her by offering a trial period and rent payment up front.

Bit by bit Sinéad becomes more alienated from her friends, and an accident takes her out of work so that she is eventually in a position where Elliot is her only friend. There is something a bit off about him but Sinéad can’t quite work out what it is. Elliot is a bit quirky from the off, and we very quickly learn that he is a killer. We know he is grooming Sinéad for something, but it is unclear what.

I found Sinéad to be a relatable and sympathetic character. Elliot kept my interest, as I wanted to learn more about him. The maniputaltion of Sinéad by Elliot is plausible and, honestly, a bit unsettling. This was slower paced than most thrillers but it was just as effective with a constant sense of threat throughout. I really enjoyed it.

The Best Friend by Shalini Boland

the best friend

I’ve read a few of Shalini Boland’s books, and I love them. Unfortunately this one didn’t live up to her usual standard. To me the storyline was a bit unbelievable, and I didn’t find any of the characters to be credible. Louisa seemed extremely gullible for a grown adult and Darcy was too good to be true. Their friendship was questionable from the beginning.

Louisa and Jared’s son Joe has just started at a new school and becomes friends with Tyler. Louisa and Jared in turn acquaint Tyler’s super rich parents Darcy and Mike, who appear to be the friendliest people I’ve ever heard of. There is nothing that Louisa’s family needs that Darcy and Mike don’t seem willing and able to provide for them. However Darcy and Louisa’s friendship becomes unbalanced with Darcy seeming to be “out to get” Louisa.

I anticipated a twist and I was right. But I felt it was a little bit far-fetched to be plausible. This isn’t a bad book, it would make a good holiday read, not requiring much investment. However I found it a bit disappointing.

Shame on You by Amy Heydenrych

shame on you

“SURELY WE ALL LIE A LITTLE BIT ONLINE . . . DON’T WE?”

Holly has beaten cancer by following a raw, vegan diet. She has documented her journey on Instagram and is now famous as an advocate for clean-living and healthy eating. When she is attacked by the man with whom she is on a date, it sets in motion a sequence of events that see her entire world crashing down around her.

I thought this book was amazing. Holly as a character was relatable although not necessarily likeable, and I’m sure everyone these days knows a Holly. Every moment is posed and captured perfectly to be posted online, while the reality is often very different.

This book highlights the pitfalls of putting your life online for friends, and enemies, to follow. It is also a reminder of how a seemingly innocent white lie can turn into something much deeper without you realising it with an element of the girl who cried wolf. Once outed as a liar it is very dificult for them to regain trust. Having said all of that, this book does not feel like a moral, its just a very enjoyable, and relevant, read.

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You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

Mine by Casey Kelleher

mine

Having overcome an abusive past relationship, Rebecca is now married to Jamie, with whom she has a new baby. Seemingly the perfect life. Rebecca is struggling and is diagnosed with post-natal depression. She begins to feel that she is being stalked and constantly watched, which takes its toll on her. Jamie starts to think that she is mentally unstable and begins to treat her as such, even having her admitted to a psychiatric facility.

I read this in one sitting, I honestly couldn’t put it down. I could actually feel the tension throughout the story, and Rebecca’s torment felt real. This is a very dark book and should be the definition of a psychological thriller. Jamie seems like the perfect husband, until he doesn’t. Rebecca seems like a survivor, until she doesn’t. And the story seems like your typical twist at the end thriller, until it doesn’t. There are so many twists and turns in this book, you’ll definitely need a rest after reading it!

 

Spare Room by Dreda Say Mitchell

spare room

This is the first book I’ve read by Dreda Say Mitchell, and I wasn’t disappointed. It begins with Lisa renting a room in a large house. The house is owned by a couple, Martha and Jack, who live there. The initial premise is a bit odd, and I questioned why Lisa would continue to stay in a house that allows no visitors, where the owners want her out, where there’s an element of domestic abuse and where the last tenant, who never existed according to the owners, committed suicide in the very room she’s renting.

I really liked this book, I did have to swallow some of the ridiculousness but it made it all the better. Some would say that it’s far-fetched or unbelievable but I’d argue that it was done in a way that worked. Some more elements include drug growing, infanticide, psychosis and bad parenting. It was weird, questionable, twisted and disturbing and I loved it! I actually think this book would make a really great horror movie, not something I say often.

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You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

 

Puzzle of You by Leah Mercer

puzzle of you

Charlotte wakes up in hospital with no recollection of how she got there. She sees her husband David, who she recognises. David keeps referring to their daughter, and there’s a little girl called Annabelle who keeps calling her Mummy. But Charlotte doesn’t have a daughter, she’s focused on her career and she never wanted children. Or did she?

It took a some effort to get past Charlotte’s simple acceptance of everything she didn’t remember. I’ve no recollection of ever wanting or having a daughter? Ah sure I’ll just go along with it until I remember. Surely that’s something you might question. I don’t work any more at the job I love, I stay at home all day with the daughter I know nothing about? Grand, I’ll just keep doing that until I remember. Again, maybe that’s something you might mention to your husband.

I enjoyed this book when I was reading it but it didn’t leave an impression on me. There are no fancy plot twists, it’s actually quite predictable in parts. It’s good as a light read, something to pick up that doesn’t require a lot of concentration.
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You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

Poetry Roundup #3: January – June 2020

And here’s the return of our biannual Poetry Roundup in which I talk through my favourites of the 80 collections I have read in the past six months.

Recommended:


– Nigh-No-Place – Jen Hadfield [Bloodaxe]
– Form His Arms – Gustavo Hernandez [Ghost City press]
– The Pale Fox – Katie Metcalfe [Bad Betty]
– Amateur Grief – Ron Mohring [Seven Kitchens Press]
– Buggery – Derek Berry [Bateau Press]
– Fake Hands/Real Flowers – Eva Griffin [Broken Sleep Books]
– RENDANG – Will Harris [Granta Books]
– Daughters of the House – Catherine Phil McCarthy [Dedalus Press]
– Lost in the Gaeltacht – Caroline Lynch [Salmon Poetry]
– So Many Rooms – Laura Scott [Carcanet]
– In These Days of Prohibition – Caroline Bird [Carcanet]
– The Dark of the Sun: Selected Poems – Umberto Saba [University Press of America]
– Sorrow’s Egg – Katherine Duffy [Dedalus]

Nigh-No-Place is the most recently read of this list and – gasp! – it’s a prizewinner (of the 2008 TS Eliot) that I actually like! Clean, beautifully sculpted lines with a breathtaking use of verbs, I really enjoyed this, and will be looking out for more of her work.

Poetry Chapbooks (if you’re in the US) or Pamphlets (if you’re in the UK) are something I read a lot of. Usually a publication in the run-up to a first collection that is shorter (30-40 pages max, with collections usually starting at 45 pages and up), they can also just be shorter books that people put out. I find they’re great short, sharp shocks of work, particularly when focused around a theme.

Ron Mohring, previous Round-Up Pick (#1), has reissued his chapbook from the 90’s, some of which went on to form Survivable World but some of which didn’t, and is just as good. A beautifully written collection about the loss of a partner and grief (also recommended is its sister publication, The David Museum, published by New Michigan Press, in print for over 15 years!).

Derek Berry is a queer poet from the US and they put out two chapbooks this year, one themselves and one with Bateau Press, which is the one I read: titled Buggery, it doesn’t pull any punches and is a fantastically written, funny and dark exploration of queerness – recommended.

I’ve been buying a good few books from Aaron Kent’s Broken Sleep Books whose aesthetic and poets I really dig – one of my favourites is fellow Irish poet (I mean, how could I not check it out?) Eva Griffin: a remarkably controlled, funny and beautifully drawn pamphlet that shows a remarkably assured voice from this young poet.

Finally, for chapbooks, I came across an oldie which I absolutely adored – Caroline Lynch’s Lost in the Gaeltacht, from Salmon Poetry, her only book so far (unfortunately!). Beautifully written and very engaging, I’d love to read more from her!

So, since I’m introducing new terminology with chapbooks and pamphlets, there’s also what are often called Chaplets, which are even shorter collections usually 5-7 poems, in a little booklet. Think like a little A5 zine. I read two great ones recently. Bad Betty Press do a series called Bad Betty Shots, which are short chaplets by women and non-binary people and Katie Metcalfe’s The Pale Fox was a weird, engaging read that was gorgeously written. Secondly, Gustavo Hernandez – a poet to watch – has put out his first publication, a chaplet called Form His Arms, nine stunning poems that demand to be read and re-read. Put out by Ghost City Press as part of their 2020 Summer Series, it’s available to download, for free, here.

And next, more prize-winners I actually liked. Will Harris’ RENDANG was the 2020 Spring Choice for the Poetry Book Society and this dense, insistent book is such a must-read that I read it straight-through twice. Another debut, Laura Scott’s So Many Rooms has just won the 2020 Seamus Heaney Prize for a First Collection and honestly, it’s well-deserved: a beautifully hewn book about love and literature.

Dedalus is an Irish press that puts out consistently strong work. Two collections of theirs I really enjoyed were Catherine MacCarthy’s Daughters of the House and Katherine Duffy’s Sorrow’s Egg: both of these books, and Dedalus in general, have such a direct clarity – getting right to the root of the image in crisp, elegant description – that really appeals to me.

Caroline Bird’s In These Days of Prohibition is my absolute favourite of the three or four books of hers I’ve read so far: propelled by the through line of a long-term relationship falling apart, the language that grated in The Hat-Stand Union is pared back, and as a result, allowed to bloom in tandem with the form and theme. A stunner.

Finally, I ordered The Dark of the Sun: Selected Poems by Umberto Saba on a whim – he was on a list of queer poets, and I hadn’t heard of him, and I adored this. A masterful collection (and selection) of his work that might be hard to come by, but well worth tracking down.

Highly Recommended:


– The Art of Dying – Adam Wyeth [Salmon Poetry]
– These Queer Merboys – Serge Neptune [Broken Sleep Books]
– A Little Larger than the Entire Universe: Selected Poems – Fernando Pessoa [Penguin Classics, ROUNDUP PICK]

And so, to the top three.

Adam Wyeth’s second collection, The Art of Dying floored me. It was honestly just so perfect. The flow, the individual poems, the range of topics covered. A wonderfully controlled, yet irreverent, book –  his poem Anatidaephobia is based around the fear that one is being constantly watched by a duck! Check him out reading it for the Irish Poetry Reading Archive here. Highly Recommended

Serge ♆ Neptune’s (yes, there’s a trident in the middle of his name!) debut pamphlet, These Queer Merboys was, simply put, brilliant. A short, controlled book where each poem is a stunner that compares themes of queerness in the metaphor of Mermen, this chapbook is absolutely not to be missed. I normally only include a poem for the Roundup Pick, but considering that poet is dead, I’m going to include a poem of Serge’s too.

A Child Comes Out as a Merman to His Parents
By Serge ♆ Neptune

When right after sunset darkness landed on our living room
like a butterfly on an open flower,
mother didn’t bother to switch on the lights
and kept watching the telly, laid on our sofa.
The telly blasting SINNERS! SINNERS!
While standing by the threshold to the kitchen,
I announced – my voice all jelly – I am a merman now!
and mother looked at me for a second, nodded
and tucked her lips again into a blanket of silence.
The morning after I found a leaflet next to my pillow,
whose content I could not decipher, with pictures as bright
as sun-filled bubbles of righteousness. Mother said
if I wanted to learn how to swim, they’d pay for lessons.
Dad in the car vexed me with lectures about being
only thirteen and knowing nothing, being full of nothing.
You shall not lie with a creature of the sea, for they have no soul
and only by marrying a creature of land, may they acquire one

a statement from mother, scriptures I believe, hugely misquoted.
I started taking baths before sleep and went to bed so wet I’d soak the sheets.
Then started sleeping in the bathtub all night.
I joined my legs tight with an elastic band,
enjoyed every cramp, every cold shiver.
The next day screams and thumps out of the bathroom door
woke me up, as I delayed everyone’s morning routine.
Over breakfast, mother insisted, once more, I was clueless.
I said I’d found a new god, one more gentle and tender,
one that allowed for slipperiness, for mellowness
Mother shook her head, dad shouted to go to my room, called me an abomination.
I soon refused to eat their food, asked mother to cook seaweeds
She tried to feed me steamed spinach instead, but I could tell the difference.
In the end they decided to leave me alone, a shadow sewing
button-eyes on ghost dolls. No one took a bath in the evening.
They started noticing less and less my presence lurking in the back.
Once, they watched a stand-up show on the telly, had their chests
shake with so much laughter, they couldn’t hear a thing.
Once the water in my bathtub was all cherry, I tried to stop
the flower of my wrists from blossoming.

[First published in Harana Poetry]


And now, the roundup pick
: Fernando Pessoa’s A Little Larger Than the Entire Universe: Selected Poems.

This book. I loved this book. I inhaled it. I internalised it. The breadth and depth of Pessoa’s poet craft is simply stunning, and it is recognised the world over: there’s a running joke –

Name the Best Four Portugese Poets. Answer: Fernando Pessoa

The reason for this is he wrote under different names, but not names, he called them “heteronyms”, alter egos with their own points of view and complete lives. He fully published them for years and people didn’t realise that so many of the poets they lauded were all in fact Pessoa. And this collection just collects his three main heteronymns, sheep herder and religiously-inclined Alberto Caeiro, physician and classicist Ricardo Reis, the stoic nihilist, and Álvaro de Campos, bisexual traveller, politically and socially concerned, and a staunch critic of one Fernando Pessoa (a selection of whose poems, under his own name, are also included here).

And the poems, are stunning. He has truly created fully-rounded poets with their own evolving styles and lives, and he did so with great overlap (writing most at the same time). And these were only his three most successful heteronyms, he had around 80, although the three above were the most fleshed out.

And the poems – I can tend to blanche at lyrical poetry, which done wrong (as it often can be) can just be lazy, but Pessoa has elevated it to a high art. Masterfully translated, capturing all of Pessoa’s wit, craft and soul, by Richard Zenith, this collection is absolutely essential.

For a poem, I had a hard time picking just one but here’s a favourite –
Alberto Caeiro’s The Keeper of Sheep, section 49:

I go inside and shut the window.
The lamp is brought and I’m told good night.
And my voice contentedly says good night.
May this be my life, now and always:
The day bright with sunshine, or gentle with rain,
Or stormy as if the world were ending,
The evening gentle and my eyes attentive
To the people passing by my window,
With my last friendly gaze going to the peaceful trees,
And then, window shut and the lamp lit,
Without reading or sleeping and thinking of nothing,
To feel life flowing through me like a river between its banks,
And outside a great silence like a god who is sleeping.

So that’s it for another six months! I’ll be back in January 2021 with more recommendations!

This is Happiness by Niall Williams

thisishappiness

This book is a rare gem, it is a keeper among all the books which I read, and that is a lot.

Williams writes with an almost poetic style, he is easy to read while still savouring his style. The book is set in West Clare, at a particular point in our recent past. It is gentle like the drizzle that drenches but hilarious in observations of the minutia of daily life.

He has the knack of allowing the characters to gradually become more developed as the story unfolds. The coming of the new communication system is balanced by the search for the traditional music of the area, we know how it will end but the experience is so worth it.

This book brings a fresh insight into how rural life deals with change against the solid foundation of a traditional Irish family. I can recommend this book to anyone who appreciates a captivating story gently told with style.

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You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.